When Sajid Javid became Home Secretary, he did so on the basis that he would be able to undo some of the political damage done by the ‘hostile environment policy’. Last night, he rather quietly announced that a key element of this policy would be paused, something Labour’s David Lammy immediately seized upon, hauling Javid’s junior Caroline Nokes to the Commons for an urgent question.
Noakes insisted that this pause was ‘temporary’, adding that she would not give consent to the data sharing between government departments and other organisations until she was confident ‘that we will not be impacting on further members of the Windrush generation’. Lammy was largely unhappy about the way the announcement had been made – around the same time as the football – but he was also unimpressed that there are still people who are in serious hardship as a result of the government’s policy. His colleague Diane Abbott told the Commons that she wanted a full review of the hostile environment policy overall.
This raises an interesting question: how far can Javid really go in undoing the big policies of his predecessor-but-one? He was clearly allowed to criticise the Home Office’s approach to the Windrush generation, but more recently the Home Secretary has implied that he is also unhappy with the overall net migration target. Asked this week at the Home Affairs Select Committee whether he wanted to ditch the target as it was a ‘massive chain around your neck’, he replied rather pointedly ‘next question!’ Javid had also told the Committee that it would remain ‘an objective to bring net migration down to sustainable levels’, though he refused to get into any numbers. This suggests that he at least is keen to scrap the ‘tens of thousands’ pledge.
It’s not clear whether Number 10 supports this, though. Theresa May is the person most committed to that tens of thousands target, despite evidence that it would be impossible and damaging to the economy to reach it. In a normal political climate, a Home Secretary suggesting that a policy was going to change would be because Number 10 wanted that policy to change too, but in the May minority government, ministers tend to announce what they want, before chipping away at their boss in order to get it. Given how stubborn the Prime Minister has been about this target up till now, it’s going to take quite some front from Javid to get her to change her mind.